The Derwent Hunter

Shiver me timbers me lads! And serve me up another cup o’ grog!

I’m back from the High Seas, faithful Acowlytes, and what a mighty adventure it was. The sights I saw! The fearsome sea serpents I battled!

Violet Towne and I have been on a trip to the Whitsunday Islands in Northern Queensland, one of the most beautiful places on earth. Under any circumstances this would have been a wonderful thing to have done, but it was even more of a treat owing to the fact that I won the holiday in last year’s Australian Maritime Museum Christmas Raffle.

Specifically, the prize was three days sailing on the Tall Ship the Derwent Hunter, a striking two-masted vessel made in the 1940s from the finest Australian ship-building timbers available. I don’t want to make you too jealous, but basically, we spent three days on the deck of a beautiful wooden ship, sailing under clear blue skies by day and star-filled skies by night. We swam off beaches of powdery white silica sand and dived among fishes so colourful that they put the rainbow to shame.

Lest you think this all sounds a little too much like Paradise, let me return to the bit about the fearsome sea serpents. Consider the sign that we encountered on our arrival:

Hazardous Sea Creatures

I just want to point out that this BIG sign encompasses only jellyfish. It says nothing of sharks, stingrays, giant octopods or other ship-eating fishy things. But trust me, the jellyfish alone are enough to keep you in the cocktail bar.

Especially this one:

Irukandji Warning

You may have missed a salient point here, so I will reiterate it – Size: 12mm. Twelve millimeters. About half an inch. Also – ‘transparent jellyfish – usually never seen’.

Up until 1964 the main evidence that someone had come into contact with an Irukandji was their dead body washed up on the beach… But I exaggerate for effect; in actual fact, death from the Irukandji is rare even if the symptoms are dire: back pain, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, hypertension, tachycardia and a feeling of impending doom.

A feeling of impending doom. Oh boy, as symptoms go that really sounds like a barrel of laughs.

The Irukandji is dangerous and unpleasant, but only one of a dozen scary toxic creatures that inhabit these waters. It is one of Nature’s cruel ironies that the beautiful blue seas off the coast of Queensland are filled with some of the most dangerous creatures on the planet. When the mercury rises, it seems that being denied the respite of the cool azure sea is an almost certain proof of the non-existence of a benign God.

Only a total bastard would pull a trick like that.

Of course, such trivial measures would never stop a pirate.

It’s going to be quiet on The Cow for a week or so – I’m off on another adventure. More when I return, including pics. You guys have fun without me. And no loud parties OK?

Pirate Indicator

A tiny bit late for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but this is a birthday present I received from my friend Sarah. As we know, being a pirate isn’t just for one day of the year, so any time I find myself short of a pirating action, I aim to make good use of this as we set sail into the silly season, and onward into 2007.

And from Pil & William, this little guy:

Little Pirate

Who has, predictably enough, swashbuckled his way into Mysterious Corner

Avast! Hoist the Jolly Roger and stow the idle chat ye bilge rats! Back to the decks or I’ll have ye all keelhauled!


Pyrate Grrl

Arrrrrr! Avast! I hope ye all have ye pirattitude on and ye ringtones set to sea shanties for International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

For me own part, a hearty ‘Thank Ye’ to Pirate Jimbo the Badly Burnt (aka Kirke) for sending me a bevvy o’ wenches to enjoy with me breakfast rum. Arrrrrr!

So ye bilge-sucking dogs, belay that dilly-dallying, keelhaul the landlubbers, brace the mains’l ‘gainst the wind and ply the Sweet Trade!



OK, heads-up guys. Only about a week & a half to International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

For those of you who don’t know what that means, we provide for you as a public service, this training video.

Start practising.

Stefan Marti at MIT’s Media Lab Speech Interface Group has come up with a idea he calls the Autonomous Active Intermediary. This is essentially a device that acts as a facilitator between a person and their communications network. To this end, Stefan has come up with The Cellular Squirrel, an agent that sits between you and your mobile phone.

The basic concept goes something like this: mobile phones are very intrusive and distracting and integrating them into your personal situations is never elegant. So why not do something really natural and familiar to everybody, like have a squirrel take your calls!

This is how Stefan puts it:

The conversational agent is able to converse with caller and callee—at the same time, mediating between them, and possibly suggesting modality crossovers. It deals with incoming communication attempts when the user cannot or does not want to. It’s a dual conversational agent since it can converse with both user and caller simultaneously, mediating between them.

Oh, I can really see how that’s going to turn out…

Caller: Hello, is that Pete?

Squirrel: No, this is his squirrel.

Caller: His squirrel? O-o-k-a-a-y… can I talk to Pete?

Squirrel: What’s it about? He’s pretty busy.

Caller: Um, I’d really rather discuss this with him than with a squirrel.

Squirrel (sighs): Oh very well, I’ll see if he can talk to you.

Squirrel (to Pete): Hey dude, there’s some glue-sniffer on the line, too good to talk to a squirrel. Whaddya want me to do?

Pete: I’m busy nailing up this wainscotting, can you take a message?

Squirrel (to Pete): Sure chief, anything you say.

Squirrel (to caller): Well nuts to you fella – he says he don’t want to talk jive with no squirrel-hater. State your business or shuffle off to Buffalo.

I don’t want to seem like I’m completely ridiculing this idea. I can see how it could be really cool. One of the (many) things I like about Philip Pullman’s amazing ‘His Dark Materials’ books is the animal daemons that Lyra and her folk have with them always. I’d really like a little animal familiar, especially in this enlightened time when nobody holds silly superstitious beliefs that can get you hung as a witch. Much.

I kind of fancy a parrot, myself, it being in keeping with my piratical bent & all. It obviously leapt pretty smartly into Stefan’s mind also, because he already has a working prototype of one of those as well:

But for Stefan, the squirrel is obviously the agent du jour. I have to admit, it has some surreal cachet. I long to be able to say:

“Hey man, good to see you! We should do lunch. I’ll get my squirrel to talk to your squirrel and we’ll sort something out!”

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